MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Democratic Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers won’t be in his office on Tuesday when Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to give a speech just a few feet away in the rotunda of the state Capitol, possibly the first visit by a sitting vice president or president in the building’s 103-year history.
Pence is scheduled to give a speech at an event celebrating Wisconsin’s school choice program. It is on the same floor and just around the corner from Evers’ office. The governor said he welcomes Pence to the state but that he won’t be around to personally greet him. Evers did not say where he would be and his spokeswoman did not immediately respond to an email asking about his schedule.
When asked about the event Monday, Evers said he hoped someone would ask Pence if he agrees with Sonny Perdue, Trump’s agriculture secretary, who suggested during a visit to Madison in October that Wisconsin’s small dairy farms need to get bigger in order to survive. Democrats have latched onto the comments in an attempt to portray Trump as being out of touch and uncaring about the plight of Wisconsin’s struggling dairy industry.
Wisconsin is a key swing state in the presidential race this year. President Donald Trump won Wisconsin by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016, becoming the first Republican since 1984 to carry the state. Trump came to Milwaukee two weeks ago for a rally, just a couple blocks away from where Democrats will hold their national convention in July, and now Pence is coming to Madison.
The Capitol in Madison, perched on a hill with its granite dome just three feet and one-half inch shorter than the nation’s Capitol in Washington D.C., is frequently used as the backdrop for political rallies both large and small. But it appears no president or vice president has ever gone inside, at least officially.
Capitol Police and the Wisconsin Historical Society said they have no records indicating any prior visits by a sitting president or vice president. The Historical Society’s photo library has an image from when then-Vice President Richard Nixon spoke on the lawn of the Capitol in 1958, an event that appeared to have attracted about 3,000 people. It had no images of visits inside the building by Nixon or any other past presidents or vice presidents.
Madison, also home to the University of Wisconsin’s main campus, is a reliably liberal city that more often plays host to Democratic candidates looking to show the strength of their support. For example, then-President Barack Obama came to the shadow of the Capitol for a rally with Bruce Springsteen the night before the election in 2012, an event that drew nearly 20,000 people.
Pence’s visit is an official event, not a campaign rally. School Choice Wisconsin, which is organizing the event, expects at least 1,000 people to attend, many of them school children. Building capacity for the Capitol is 4,000. While public access will be restricted, the Capitol will not be shut down on Tuesday.
Even though concealed weapons aren’t permitted in the Capitol, no one will be allowed in on Tuesday with a concealed weapon. Capitol Police notified building employees that if they typically store a weapon in their office or work space, they can’t bring them out on Tuesday until after the end of the Pence event.